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'Mortal Men' Creators Craft A Song For Obama

Before the election of Barack Obama, a group of musicians recorded and released a collection of 43 original songs, one for each of the U.S. presidencies. Titled Of Great and Mortal Men, the three-CD set ended with George W. Bush. Now, just in time for the inauguration, the creators have completed their 44th song.

For the first 43 presidents, the songwriters behind Of Great and Mortal Men had hindsight on their side. But that wasn't an option this time.

"Because I didn't have an actual presidency to write about, the only thing I could write about was his effect on people," songwriter Christian Kiefer says of President-elect Obama. So Kiefer started out by exploring where the country has been.

"We've spent eight years basically sitting on our hands, complaining around the watercooler," Kiefer says.

Singer Will Johnson picks up the thought.

"It could have been easy to, after the last eight years, write a little more embittered type of song," Johnson says.

Johnson is best-known for his work with the Texas band Centro-matic. He volunteered to sing the lead vocals on Kiefer's song, joining a long list of indie-rock performers who made guest appearances on the original Of Great and Mortal Men. Johnson says the new song looks forward instead of whining about the past.

"That's something I've been guilty of for quite some time now," Johnson says. "I'm tired of feeling that way, personally. You get tired when you're angry."

It's more than three minutes into the song before the character of Barack Obama finally makes an entrance, singing, "Everything will be just fine."

Kiefer says it might be premature to suggest that Obama will be able to fix all the problems confronting the country. A history teacher in Sacramento, Calif., he also has five children of his own, ranging in age from 2 months to 14 years. In his song, Kiefer says Obama is acting like a grownup.

"He says everything is all right in the same way that you might hold a child in your arms who has an ouwie," Kiefer says. "And you stroke that child, and you say everything's all right. That's essentially what I think what Obama has done for us as a nation — taken this basically broken child and said, 'Hey, come on, everything's good. We're tough, we can do this. Let's move forward.' "

For a while, Kiefer says he considered leaving the song untitled — an acknowledgment of the open questions facing Obama once he takes office. But in the end, he decided to call it "Someone to Wake."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.

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